Seattleites just voted overwhelmingly to fund universal preschool. Will King County taxpayers supplement that effort next August or October by passing the Best Starts for Kids levy? This measure being floated by King County Executive Dow Constantine would fund early childhood programs and youth services.
During a phone interview this week, Constantine said details are yet to be determined, but the levy would likely be a property tax increase. The foremost questions up for discussion: Do we want to do something? If yes, what is it going to do, and how? (Scroll down to vote in our unscientific poll.)
The argument for focused funding for early childhood development is easy enough to make. Study after study indicates that a mother’s health and those early months and years after birth are a critical period for her baby’s brain development. Brain growth and bonding equals healthy kids. Healthy kids become productive adults who are more likely to care for themselves and stay out of the justice system. Makes sense, right?
Common sense doesn’t quite cut it when voters feel like they get squeezed more and more every year. As if Seattle and King County are not already pricey enough to live in. Levy fatigue is real and absolves the state somewhat of its obligation to fund certain services such as public health and education. I also wonder how excited voters will be to pay for preventive measures that will take years to come to fruition.
Here’s what convinces me there’s a need for some sort of paradigm shift: If we don’t fund more prevention, our communities will eventually pay the price, and not in a good way. As the general fund chart below shows, a large portion of the county’s budget is eaten up by the demand for justice and safety services. Think prosecutors, incarceration and deputies to stem violence. Something’s got to give.
To build a case for action, the county will screen one part of a documentary series Thursday evening called “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation” at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center. (The screening starts at 6pm. Free tickets here.) Constantine will host a discussion afterward.
Watch an 11-minute preview of the film series below:
Opinion Northwest is curious whether you think the county needs to expand its role in early childhood services. Vote in our poll below.